Saturday 18 November 2017

Books of condolence opened as forensic investigators work to identify victims

Cranes lift the wreckage of the coach that crashed near Barcelona. Photo: Reuters
Cranes lift the wreckage of the coach that crashed near Barcelona. Photo: Reuters

Gerard Couzens and Sarah Stack

A team of forensic scientists was last night trying to identify the remains of 13 young women who died in a horror coach crash.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont declared two days of mourning after the tragedy near Barcelona.

Barcelona University, where most of the dead and injured are believed to have been studying, ordered flags on its main campus to be flown at half-mast.

Within hours of the accident yesterday, books of condolence were also opened at the university in memory of the victims.

The trip to Valencia had been organised by Erasmus Student Network Barcelona UB, which describes itself as a students' association that promotes integration of all University of Barcelona exchange students. It posted a black ribbon on its Facebook page yesterday, along with a statement in Spanish and English, which read: "ESN Barcelona would like to convey our condolences and join the pain of the families, friends and relatives of the victims.

"We feel the deep loss.

"In the same way, we would like to express our sincere willingness to be as helpful as possible with the family, friends or institutions."

Spain's Acting Interior Minister, Jorge Fernandez Diaz, attributed the crash to an "undefined human error".

The unnamed coach driver, who is described as a highly-experienced professional and had never been involved in an accident, survived and was expected to be called before an investigating judge last night after being questioned by police.

Authorities confirmed that he had tested negative for alcohol and drugs and was being helped by a psychologist because he was suffering from shock.

Part of the investigation will examine if the coach crashed after the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel.

However, two mayors from the area - Nuría Ventura, the mayor of the nearby town of Ulldecona, and Josep Rancero, Mayor of Freginals - both described the area where the crash happened as "an accident black spot".

The vehicle, a three-year-old coach which had passed all its MOTs, was one of five in a convoy belonging to the same firm which had been hired by the student association.

Alejandro Lopez, owner of Autocares Alejandro, which is based near Barcelona, had been driving the vehicle in front of the one that crashed.

"I lost sight of my colleague, who was behind me before crossing a bridge over the River Ebro and I grew suspicious," he said.

"I stopped in a service station because I knew something had happened and began to call him but he didn't pick up the phone.

"Fifteen minutes later, I was told there had been an accident with fatalities."

Spain's national student union and the European student network paid their condolences to the victims and their families.

"Today, 13 dreams have been cut short on the roads of our country," they said in a statement last night.

"Today, no limits exist in sharing the pain of the families of our classmates."

Spain's Royal Family tweeted: "Our feelings and support to the families of the victims and the injured in the coach accident on the AP-7 in Freginals."

Irish Independent

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